I was never a comic books kid. Never connected with “super heroes.” I didn’t really discover Superman, Batman, or Wolverine until the box office started cranking out the movies and capitalizing on a market of now-adults looking to relive there childhoods. I really enjoy the Hollywood films now and again, but it’s not like I am currently taking up a comic book collection and wishing I had super powers.
I loved sports as a kid. Still do. I spent most of my time growing up playing outside (mom insisted, even though Nintendo was new on the scene). When I did watch TV, I watched sports. I grew up in the era of Michael Jordan, Andre Agassi, Michael Johnson, Karl Malone, Wayne Gretzky, etc. Real athletes achieving some unreal things. And yet, I guess all I can say is, they were great and all, and I enjoyed watching them, but they were not my heroes. These athletes all did some really inspiring things, but none of them resonated with me as a hero. On a side note, I also grew up in the era of athletes doing some bad things. I knew better then, and still know better now than to have idolized Dennis Rodman (North Korea, you can keep him). I learned it’s never a good idea to bet on baseball (talking to you, Pete Rose). I saw what Tanya Harding did to Nancy Kerrigan (girls gone wild, for real). I watched, we all watched, the OJ trial (I wonder how easy/hard it is to sell a 92 white Ford Bronco)…
I ended up studying politics in college but, it’s not like I idolized George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Bob Dole, and/or Dan Quayle “potatoe.”
I understood the whole Ghandhi, Pope, Mother Teresa thing… but there was absolutely no way I was going to live up to those standards. So, although I could be in awe of the way they all chose to live life, I couldn’t relate enough to allow them to be my heroes.
So, who was my hero as a youngster then? Well, my father was. And he still is. That will never change.
Let’s define hero:
a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
b : an illustrious warrior
c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
d : one who shows great courage
Well, that pretty much sums up my father. How could it not?
As a kid, you are always in awe of your father’s strength and abilities. The effortless manner in which he picks you up off the ground, swings you around in circles by your arms, throws you in the air, then lays you back down on the grass, holding you down with one hand and tickling you into submission with the other. You are secretly hoping you can one day be as strong as him. To one day wield that much power.
As a kid you see your father as a protector, a warrior, a defender of the family. I have seen my father in a few altercations when I was growing up. Nothing too serious, and nothing that came to blows… because I am pretty sure the other guy knew better. You know, the usual… drunk dude at a football game makes a comment to the family, thinking he is funny. Father “corrects” him. Guy puffs up. Father continues to stand ground and shows a willingness to offer an even more firm “correction” if necessary. Guy thinks better of it, backs down. That sort of thing. Moral of the story, I would not then, and still would not now, fuck with my father. Especially now that he has “old man strength!”
It is not as a kid, but now that I realize just how much my father has achieved in his life. Having been in the “real world” now for a while, I realize just how noble his accomplishments are. Beyond work, beyond wealth, I realize just how noble a pursuit it was for him and my mother to raise me and my asshole brothers. Good on you, Dad and Mom.
And yes, the courage it must have taken, and still does (as I realize no matter how old I get, I will always be my mother and father’s son) to raise children is exceptional.
I work hard to emulate my father. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say. I hope my Dad is flattered. Because I am trying hard… and if I could become a tenth the man that he is, I will have done okay in this world.
I think the fact that I never idolized a hero outside of my family is a testament to the achievements and commitments of my father. I never needed to go outside the family to fulfill a need for inspiration. My father provided me a happy and healthy childhood and he taught me to be a man. He did this by example and he did this by word and he did this by reprimand. And he did it all with love.
My father never scored 50 points a game, he never had a shoe line named after him, he never competed in the Olympics. He did not hold political office, he did not try to solve world hunger or create world peace. He can’t walk on walls and doesn’t swing from webs.
But I will forgive all that… because he showed me what it was to be a real man… and a real man is what he has made of me. And that is a truly heroic feat, in and of itself.